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First semester
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Learning outcomes of the course unit

The aim of the course is to provide knowledge into the Hodgkin-Huxley
theory of membrane excitability, usually only briefly underlined into
General Physiology Courses. Here the theory is treated in detail with
particular reference to some cell types.
Further aim of the course is to provide deep knowledge concerning the
most used experimental techniques for measuring cellular excitability
and its modulation.
Finally, the course aims to provide students with concepts needed to
understand mechanisms of macroscopic cellular excitability, moving from
the formal knowledge of their molecular mechanisms. For what concerns
the cell physiology experimental techniques described during the course,
students will be required to apprehend what is functional in order to
understand the investigated molecular and cellular mechanisms.


Basic concepts of Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Cellular Biology and
Biochemistry are required. Solid knowledge of General Physiology is

Course contents summary

1. Mechanism of the membrane potential.
2. Mechanism of the action potential.
3. Techniques for measuring membrane potential (current clamp, voltage
clamp, coupling clamp, action potential clamp, dynamic clamp).
4. Measuring gating processes of ion channels with voltage clamp
5. Numerical reconstruction of the action potential from experimental
6. Action potential properties: rheobase, cronaxy, refractoriness,electrical
restitution, dynamic restitution, input resistance.
7. Action potential propagation.
1. Cardiac pacemaker and its modulation
2. Experimental measurements of excitation-contraction coupling
3. Electrotonic modulation of the cardiac action potential repolarization

Course contents

1. mechamism of membrane potential 2. mechanism of action potential
3. methods for the measure of membrane potential (current clamp,
voltage clamp, coupling clamp, action potential clamp, dynamic clamp).
4. methods for measuring the gating properties of ion channels in voltage
clamp. 5. numerical reconstruction of action potential from experimental
data. 6. action potential properties: rheobase, cronaxy, refractoriness,
electrical restitution, dynamic restitution, input resistance. 7. action
potential propagation

Recommended readings

Fisiologia e Biofisica delle cellule
V. Taglietti - C. Casella
Ed. 2015
1. Action potential duration, rate of stimulation, and intracellular sodium.
Carmeliet E.
J Cardiovasc Electrophysiol. 2006 May;17 Suppl 1:S2-S7. Review.
2. Electrotonic modulation of electrical activity in rabbit atrioventricular
node myocytes.
Spitzer KW, Sato N, Tanaka H, Firek L, Zaniboni M, Giles WR.
Am J Physiol. 1997 Aug;273(2 Pt 2):H767-76.
3. Conduction between isolated rabbit Purkinje and ventricular myocytes
coupled by a variable resistance.
Huelsing DJ, Spitzer KW, Cordeiro JM, Pollard AE.
Am J Physiol. 1998 Apr;274(4):H1163-73.
4. Beat-to-beat repolarization variability in ventricular myocytes and its
suppression by electrical coupling.
Zaniboni M, Pollard AE, Yang L, Spitzer KW.
Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2000 Mar;278(3):H677-87.
5. Temporal variability of repolarization in rat ventricular myocytes paced
with time-varying frequencies.
Zaniboni M, Cacciani F, Salvarani N.
Exp Physiol. 2007 Sep;92(5):859-69.
6. Cardiac excitation-contraction coupling.
Bers DM.
Nature. 2002 Jan 10;415(6868):198-205. Review.
7. Cell-specific Dynamic Clamp analysis of the role of funny If current in
cardiac pacemaking. Ravagli E1, Bucchi A2, Bartolucci C1, Paina
M2, Baruscotti M2, DiFrancesco D2, Severi S3.
Prog Biophys Mol Biol. 2016 Jan;120(1-3):50-66.

Teaching methods

General concepts concerning the molecular mechanisms of cellular
excitability will be discussed during oral lessons.
The introductory part of the course will present in greater detail concepts
of membrane excitability already treated in previous courses of General
The Hodgkin-Huxley theory of membrane excitability will be discussed in
detail, together with its computational formulation, and with examples
within neurons and cardiac cells.
Different excitable mechanisms will be explained within: prokaryotes,
unicellular algae, protists, plants, neuronal and muscle cells.
Within the second part of the course, a number of recent scientific papers
will be discussed concerning membrane excitability, its mechanism and
modulation. The discussion of each article will be preceded by the
presentation of the related general concepts. The working hypothesis of
the authors, the description of the methods, and the study and discussion
of the results will then be discussed as well. Some experimental
techniques for measuring membrane excitability will be treated with
particular detail, given their relevance for the understanding of the very
concept of excitability.
The patch clamp technique, in its different configurations and in its more
recent versions (coupling clamp, dynamic clamp), will be discussed with
particular detail.
At least one seminar will be given by an external expert for the students
within the course, and concerning particular aspects of cellular
excitability treated within the oral lessons.

Assessment methods and criteria

The final oral examination will be divided into two parts. In the first, the
comprehension of the molecular mechanisms of cellular excitability,
particularly the Hodgkin-Huxley theory, the electrotonic modulation of
excitability and the excitation-contraction coupling, will be verified. This
part is fully discussed in the reference book recommended for the course
and in the additional material provided for the students on the website of
the course, and discussed during oral lessons. In the second part
students will be required to discuss one of the scientific articles
presented during the course, the underlying hypothesis, the experimental
methods and the obtained results.

Other informations

Even though the following topics are not strictly required to pass the final
examination, nevertheless they are highly recommended. Supporting
material will be provided at the beginning of the course:
1. Introduction to ordinary differential equations
2. Introduction to numerical analysis
3. Introduction to Matlab